New Protocol for Evaluating Stranded Marine Mammals for Signs of Human Interaction
Evaluating marine mammals for signs of human interaction (HI) requires consistent and objective examination by trained personnel. We have developed a new protocol and accompanying training which is divided into an objective data collection section and a more subjective final evaluation.
The primary goal of this protocol is to determine whether signs of human interaction are present on the stranded animal. The secondary, and more difficult, goal is to determine whether human activities contributed to the stranding event. A positive score for signs of human interaction is the result of an objective evaluation of the animal or carcass. The initial examination does not attempt to determine whether the signs of human interaction occurred before, during or after a stranding event and does not attempt to qualify the severity of the interaction. The objective evaluation is designed to be conducted by stranding personnel with varying levels of expertise.
The training that accompanies the protocol provides an introduction to many of the most commonly observed types of HI seen in the U.S., and the instructions include methods for proper documentation of potential HI so that, if needed, further evaluation by more experienced staff and/or veterinary/pathology experts can take place.
The final human interaction evaluation takes into account the findings of the initial examination the physical condition of the animal and the necropsy findings as well as circumstances surrounding the stranding event and indicates the likelihood that human activities caused the stranding. This second, more subjective section should be scored as a consensus among the initial responders, experienced evaluators and veterinary/pathology staff.
Determining the cause of death is not goal of this protocol, however explaining the difficulty in accurately determining a cause of death for stranded marine mammals is discusses. Without further evaluation such as histopathology and review by veterinarians, pathologists and/or other experts, the exact reason for stranding and cause of death cannot be accurately determined. Development of this protocol was funded by the U.S. John H. Prescott Grant Program through NOAA/NMFS/OPR.